DIXON: Déjà vu

Freshman Voices

The week before I arrived at Yale, I realized I had forgotten to pack my official Yale Class of 2017 T-shirt — it must have been the only shirt that had evaded my grasp as I bear-hugged large swaths of my closet to quickly pack (read: cram). Sure enough, when I went to my closet, my Yale shirt was positioned at the end of the rack. And there was one other shirt behind it — two shirts had evaded my grasp, but only one was forgotten. That’s how my déjà vu began.

I’ll admit, the feeling took me by surprise at first. I had never before thought to anticipate déjà vu as the newness of college approached, and nothing I had ever heard about the freshmen experience suggested that I would experience it. But looking at those two shirts side-by-side on my unkempt bed, the déjà vu began to reign. On one side, of course, was my official Yale Class of 2017 T-shirt. Adjacent to that was my Central High School Class of 2013 t-shirt — a shirt that had just a few months previously been my other class shirt. Both were blue.

Perhaps it was the similarity of the shirts that prompted my revelation, but I suddenly realized that, even though I was just starting college, I’d done this before. Standing there, eyes glazed over, I entered a bout of deep introspection to justify the déjà vu I now felt. Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to find.

Almost everything that awaits us at Yale is, when examined by itself, not radically new for most of us. Our families, even pundits, would have us believe that college is a radically new environment filled with “new experiences.” I don’t mean to be a contrarian, honest, but the claims of the insiders are, if not entirely untrue, at the very least extremely misleading.

We’ve heard throughout our lives that many things will, in fact, be new experiences. Most of us have already encountered almost precisely the same phraseology from similar authority figures in the days leading up to our freshman year of high school. What’s worse, the platitudes typically slung about to provide context for the whole idea of the new college experience are themselves reminiscent of many of the same things we heard back in high school. The biggest offenders? Try “you’ll meet new friends” and “you’ll learn new things” and “you’ll be on your own,” all said as if our time at Yale will be our first chance to experience any of those things. Let’s set matters straight: We’ve been meeting new friends all our lives, in high school and before. We’ve certainly learned new things before (after all, we made it to Yale, not Harvard). And many of us have even been on our own before, although, I’ll admit, probably not on such a large scale.

At this point in my introspection, I reached a conflict: If I’ve already done this before, why am I even attending Yale? In spite of my overwhelming déjà vu, it certainly didn’t seem right to say that Yale was merely an extension of high school, scaled up for an older crowd. I must have been missing something, something intangible that gives Yale its unique magic.

I turned to the most infamous video in all of Yale lore to find my answer: “That’s Why I Chose Yale.” Immediately, the answer was clear. While the experiences of “meeting new friends” and “learning new things” and “being on one’s own” may not be new in and of themselves, together, they are. The “new experiences” aren’t singular, discrete experiences at all. Rather, there is one “new experience,” and that is the result of a veritable flood of experiences we’ve already experienced before — the synergy resulting from “meeting new friends” and “learning new things” and “being on one’s own” all at once. And all these experiences exist in a million different forms, represented by the clubs we join and the classes we take. Once here, we’re going to experience all of life, all at once. We will be bombarded by experience. At Yale, it will all come together.

Blake Dixon is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at blake.dixon@yale.edu.

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